At 16, Reece Whitley Stands Tall in and Out of Water

I am always excited when I read about African American youth excelling in school. But I am obviously ecstatic when I learn about Black youth that are excelling in Mandarin also.

Whitley, 16, is on the fast track in school and swimming. In the classroom, his workload includes Mandarin Chinese and advanced courses in chemistry and algebra. In the water, he posted the seventh-fastest time among American men in the 200-meter breaststroke last year to establish himself as a 2016 Olympic hopeful.

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Every Thursday, Reece Whitley’s busy life screeches to a halt. The red light built into his 10-grade class schedule at William Penn Charter School, a private Quaker institution founded in 1689, is a 40-minute meditative period known as “Meeting for Worship.” The period of silence, sometimes broken by students or teachers sharing thoughts when the spirit moves them, was the topic of a lively conversation during a recent Quaker Principles class.

One student said the 40 minutes would be better spent studying. Another dismissed it as the adolescent version of nap time as sleep-deprived students sometimes nod off.

Whitley, wedged into a back-row seat like a Hummer limousine in a parking space for a compact car, raised his hand and said he looked forward to the Meeting for Worship more this year than in the past.

“I can kind of get away from thinking about everything,” he said, adding, “It’s nice.”

Whitley, 16, is on the fast track in school and swimming. In the classroom, his workload includes Mandarin Chinese and advanced courses in chemistry and algebra. In the water, he posted the seventh-fastest time among American men in the 200-meter breaststroke last year to establish himself as a 2016 Olympic hopeful.

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